businesswoman with question marks behind her hard decision

I travel a good bit, speaking at conferences, and I also lead a lot of webinars.
So it’s no surprise that I get asked a LOT of questions about fundraising.
I don’t mind answering them, and I’m tickled that people feel comfortable enough right after meeting me to ask a question.
Sometimes, the questions make me shake my head and wonder how these folks are making it.
You see, sometimes people ask the wrong questions.
It’s clear to me that sometimes folks are focused on the wrong thing. They’re more concerned about the technique than the result.
It’s easy to do. There are LOTS of workshops and webinars out there telling you the finer points of grant writing or direct mail or social media. And you need to know those things.
But you MUST stay focused on the most important parts of fundraising or the techniques don’t matter.
Here are 5 questions that you shouldn’t be asking along with better questions to get you focused on the right thing.
1. “Why won’t my Board help with fundraising?” This one is really common and sometimes there’s a variation on it like “How can I get my Board to fundraise?” This tells me you have an expectation that they should be helping you. Granted, they should, but most people who join a nonprofit Board don’t understand what they’ve said “yes” to. They don’t come with full knowledge of how good fundraising works. And it’s your job to help them along. The question you should be asking is “What do I need to do to help my Board understand fundraising and feel comfortable helping?”
2.“How long should my fundraising letter be?” I get this one all the time. People are too focused on the length of the letter instead of the content. Should it be one page? Two pages? Here’s the answer: make it as long as it needs to be to adequately say what it needs to say. It’s more important to tell a story that engages the reader and keeps them reading, moving them to take action. The question you should be asking is “What do I need to say to help my reader feel inspired and want to give?”
3. “What are some fundraisers that are working for others?”  Folks who don’t understand donor-based fundraising always lean toward events or ‘fundraisers.’ While there’s a place for a really well-done event, it’s easy for young organizations to get on what I call the “Special Event Hamster Wheel” where they spend a ton of time working really hard and never bring in the kind of money they need. It’s exhausting and the ROI is terrible. Stop looking for the latest and greatest, and instead ask, “What could we do that would give us the results we need, based on our organizational strengths and goals?” What have you got that you could leverage? In the Get Fully Funded system, I talk about organizational ass ets that lend themselves to various events so you can get the absolute most from your efforts.
4. “Why won’t our Facebook fans give? If each one would just give a dollar…” There are a couple of problems with this one. First, you’re assuming that people who ‘like’ your page actually care about your mission. I know it may come as a shock, but they may simply be a casual supporter and see that ‘liking’ your page is their way of supporting you. Second, have you given them something worth supporting? Are you asking them to ‘help us reach our goal’ or are you asking them to ‘help change a life?’ There’s a big difference. If you want to see more donations from your Facebook tribe, you should be asking “What are we doing to inspire our Facebook fans to give?”
5. “Where do we find rich people and how can we get them to give?” I get this one from the people who are trying the nonprofit version of the ‘get rich quick’ scheme. They want a sugar daddy to write them a big check and be done with it. I’m all for big gifts, but most (or all) of your revenue from one donor is dangerous. If that one donor goes away, what will you do?  Instead of looking for the ‘rich people’ in town, look for folks who are likely to care about your cause and start engaging them. Focus on the relationship, not the money. The relationship is WAY more valuable. If you want big gifts, ask “Who is the ideal person to give to us and how can we best connect with them?” Build the relationship one step at a time for best results.

Did you catch the theme here? It’s all about the relationships you have with your donors. Without them, there isn’t much fundraising to do.
Your turn.
What questions have you heard or have you asked that may be the wrong questions? Be brave and share them in the comments on the blog. We may just select a winner to ask a question directly to me.

Hand writing What Do You Think with blue marker on transparent wipe board.I love it when readers write in and share their thoughts.

Last week’s article “Go From Squeamish to Successful When You Ask For Money” apparently struck a nerve. Thanks to all who told me how much you got from that.

One was so good I wanted to share it with you.

Here’s some nonprofit fundraising insight from Bob Doan, Community Development Coordinator, Arthur Area Economic Development Corporation, IL.

I work for the Arthur Area Economic Development Corporation and I am the primary fund-raiser for the group. Here are some “notes” I try to remember each day.

Keep in mind our annual budget is approximately $80,000 in a very rural Amish community of 2,300 in town and 4,500 in the country. In addition I am also the primary fund raiser for our new Tourism group which has a budget of $55,000.

Our village provides us $30,000 total for both groups which means we raise another $105,000 in our small community.

I find that to be amazing. We are truly a blessed community.

1. I am fund-raising every day whether I like it or not.

2. Don’t ask people to do something (like fundraise) if they are not trained for or capable of doing it.

3. It is best if I fundraise for only one organization unless one of them is a church.

4. We consider every business/person who provides funds for us to use as “investors”. (Our investors range from $100 to $15,000 annually.)

5. You never run out of “thank yous.” And be sincere with them.

6. I NEVER “ask” for funds! We share “opportunities” to support our organization.

7. In small communities never underestimate the opportunity to “help my community” as an approach with investors.

8. Relationships raise money, not “asking” for funds.

9. Have a minimum amount in mind when discussing an opportunity with an investor. Don’t be limited by a “maximum” you have created.

10. Confidence in yourself and your organization are vital to successful fundraising.

11. Create ways for businesses and people to invest with your organization because many of them truly want to help.

12. Gifts-In-Kind should be an option for everyone and they need to be monitored closely by the organization.
Your turn

How about you? What nonprofit fundraising truths do you live by? I would love to see your comments below.

Freaking Out

We’ve all been there.

You’re raising money for a project.

You’ve identified someone who can give to move you toward your goal.

You find their contact information. You might even have a pledge form ready.

Everything builds up to the moment when it’s time to ask and…..

You freeze.

You either can’t get the words out or you mangle it so badly your donor looks at you like you’re speaking Latin.

Why does this happen?

Why is asking someone for something so hard?

Why does it seem so easy for some people to ask when others struggle?

It doesn’t matter if you’re asking a volunteer to work a Saturday morning shift, asking for a gift certificate for your silent auction, or asking a big donor for a $50,000 gift, making that ask can be scary.


Reasons why it’s tough to ask

There are a lot of reasons why it can be hard for you to ask a simple question to a donor.

  • Inexperienced. If you’re new to asking, it can be scary. Lots of people are nervous the first time they attempt something new, because they have no idea how it’s going to turn out or how they’ll do. We all put a lot of pressure on ourselves to get it right the first time, which really isn’t fair. You wouldn’t expect a child to ride a bike the first time they get on, would you?
  • Not prepared. Maybe you don’t know what to say or how much to ask for. This is not the time to wing it or shoot from the hip. Without a clear idea of what how you want the conversation to go, it can take any number of courses and end badly for you.
  • Lack of confidence. Sometimes, you just don’t feel ready. Maybe you think you’re not the one who should be asking or that you don’t know enough about the organization. And guess what? When you don’t feel confident, it comes through, which usually reduces the chances that the donor will say “yes.”
  • Mindset. What you believe about fundraising and money and giving and practically everything makes up your mindset. If you believe that your cause isn’t as good as another nonprofit’s, you’ll downplay the work your nonprofit does and people won’t be as inclined to give. If you believe that the economy is bad and people won’t give, they won’t. If you believe there’s too much competition for fundraising, you’ll struggle to get your share. See how this works?


How to get better at asking

The old saying is “practice makes perfect” and it’s absolutely true when it comes to fundraising.

So, get out there and ask.

Start with someone you know who cares about your organization’s mission. Choose someone you know pretty well and ask for something small. The point here is to get a quick ‘win’ because it will boost your confidence.

Be prepared. Don’t wing it. Outline what you’ll say and how you’ll say it. Think through questions they might ask about your nonprofit or your project, and how you’ll answer them.
Practice. Rehearse your ask in front of the mirror. I know, I know – this seems silly, but it will help you if you’re nervous. If you really want to practice, video yourself and watch the video. I always learn a ton from watching a video of myself doing something.

Believe in what you’re asking for. Focus on the mission, not the money. You’re here to change lives, and when your ask results in a “yes,” you’ll get resources you need to fulfill your mission.


Tips to ask for money

Stay focused on your ‘why.’ Why does it matter to you if you get what you’re asking for? Get in touch with the deepest reason in your heart why this matters to you and let it strengthen you. Visualize it and keep it firmly planted in your mind as you ask.

Imagine you and the donor on the same team. It’s not ‘you vs them,’ it’s ‘you & them.’ You’re partners in this work and they want to help you be successful. See yourself as already on the same team.

It’s all about your intention. When you come from a place of respect and integrity, you aren’t “hitting them up” or “strong arming them” to give to your nonprofit. You’re raising money for something that matters, and you’re asking for their help. That’s all.

Asking is important. You’ll never fully fund your nonprofit without it, so it’s time to start working on any mindset issues you have so you can get out there and ask for what your nonprofit needs.

Finally, remember that you’re not taking anything away from people when you ask. You are simply giving them to chance to participate in the work your nonprofit does. Simple as that.

And lives will be changed because of it.


Volunteers are the lifeblood of many nonprofits.They can bring extra hands to a program. 

They can also bring fresh ideas, new enthusiasm, and a different perspective.
They work without reward and often under less-than-perfect circumstances.
So, be sure to thank them. And thank them well.
It’s National Volunteer Week, so what better time to give your volunteers some love?
If you’re like most, you’ve not stopped long enough to even think about it, much less come up with a creative way to show your gratitude.
Don’t worry – I’ve got you covered.
Here are some ideas for thanking your volunteers this week or any time.

  1. Hand-written thank you note. A personalized note is always in style. Simple jot down a heart-felt thanks along with a specific, personal reason why you appreciate them. You can choose fancy or themed cards for more impact.
  2. Home-made card. Got a creative spark and some extra time? Make the cards. You could personalize them with a photo of your volunteer in action, or something else that gives the card that personal touch. Craft stores are FULL of stickers, decals, paper punches, and other toys to help you create little works of art.
  3. Crayon drawing from a kid in your program. If you have a program that serves kids, crayon drawings are pure magic and will warm anyone’s heart.
  4. Thank-you video. Shoot a short video thanking your volunteer. It could be various staff saying thank you, your program participants, or your Board. Who could be in the video that would warm your volunteers’ hearts? Remember that this sort of video doesn’t need to be long or fancy, and can easily be shot with your smart phone. Upload it to YouTube and send your volunteers a link.
  5. Send a thank-you ecard. There are all kinds of resources for sending ecards. and are two options.
  6. Have a Board member call to thank them. A phone call from a Board member is always powerful. And it’s good for both the volunteer and the Board member.
  7. Have your entire staff sign a card for them. This is so simple, yet often overlooked. At a staff meeting or gathering, simple pass a card around and ask everyone to sign it for your volunteer. If you have lots of volunteers, this may take a while, but the payoff will be big. Plus, it gets your entire staff involved in appreciating volunteers, which is a good thing.
  8. Host a small reception to thank them. Depending on your situation, you may be able to host a dessert reception or an ice cream social or some such thing to show your volunteers how much you appreciate them. If you can do this when your volunteers are already gathered, you’ll have more of them show up. Volunteers don’t always want to come out for a special event honoring them. Strange but true.
  9. Give them a Starbucks gift card. If you can afford it, a small token can be very meaningful. You might be able to get these donated if you ask nice.
  10. Write a Letter to the Editor of your local paper and publicly thank your volunteers. You can express your thanks to your volunteers as a group and talk about how essential they are to your work. Be careful about naming them individually – if you accidentally omit someone, there will be hurt feelings!
  11. Thank them on Facebook. Don’t forget that social media can be a powerful tool for showing appreciation.
  12. Get creative! If you’d like to do something a little different or a little clever, check out this Pinterest Board I created for you. There are about 40 ideas and resources there that can help you make a big impact. You’ll find it at

Appreciating and thanking volunteers really should be an ongoing activity, not something you do once a year. Figure out what you can do regularly and put the individual actions on your calendar so you can keep up with it.
And in case you need them, here are some other great resources for finding and working with volunteers:


It’s April, which means the first quarter of 2015 is done.

Now is a great time to pause and reflect on what you’ve gotten done and see what you need to do next.

It’s time to pull out your fundraising plan and see if you’re on track.

If you don’t HAVE a fundraising plan, you’re not alone. Most folks who work in a small nonprofit either ave no plan or a partial plan, and it’s almost never in writing.

Here are some common reasons why you may not have a plan.

1. You don’t have time. You’re crazy busy with more on your plate than you can ever say grace over (that’s Southern for more than you can get done). It seems like every day, the list just keeps growing. The problem here is that you’re busy, but are you busy doing the right things? What is your busy-ness moving you toward? Without a fundraising plan that’s based on sound strategy, you may be going in circles or doing things that will never actually move you toward your goals.

2. You don’t know where to start. Sometimes big tasks like “Create a fundraising plan” are just too daunting. You know it needs to be done, but you have no idea where to start, and the thought of figuring it out makes you want to take a nap. You need to take it one step at a time, and stop being more focused on getting it right than getting it started. Just take the first step – that will get you out of procrastination and into action.

3. You don’t know what format to use. Many times people say to me “Sandy, if I just knew what a fundraising plan should look like, I could create one.” Unfortunately, there’s no perfect formula here. Plans can take various shapes. The most important thing is to get it in writing. As long as it’s in your head, it isn’t real. Use Excel or Word or crayons and paper if that appeals to you. The format isn’t what’s important – what’s important is setting a direction and some goals, and getting it in writing.

4. You don’t know what to include. Now we’re getting into cop-out mode. In your gut, you know you need to include all the major details that describe your goals and how you’ll reach them. Saying you don’t know what to include is just an excuse so you don’t have to do it.

5. Things are already going along just fine. This one is a little tricky. Sometimes it can seem like everything is just perking along. And it may be. But if you’re not raising enough money to fully fund your nonprofit’s mission, then you have more work to do. You need to stretch and find a way to be more effective and efficient in fundraising. That’s when you need a plan.

Those are a lot of reasons why you might not have a plan.

Ready for some good news? It’s not too late to put one together.

You can start today to create a fundraising plan for the rest of 2015.

Try this:

1. Start by setting a goal for the amount of money you need to raise. “As much as we can” or “A lot” are not good goals. Look at the programs you’re running or want to run. What does it cost? Include all direct and indirect expenses. And add it all up. THAT’S the amount you need to raise.

I suggest you think big on this one. Make it a substantial goal – not too crazy big, but big enough to stretch you a bit. It’ll cause you to stretch your thinking and your skills, which will be a good thing.

2. Evaluate what you’ve done before. This is a good time to take a look at hard numbers. What has worked? What didn’t? Which fundraising activities gave you the best ROI? Then decide which ones you want to do again. Hint: you don’t have to keep doing something just because you always have. You also don’t have to do something just because everyone else does.

This means you need to do a little digging. Take a little time to find out what you’ve really raised on all your fundraising efforts over the past year and do the math to figure out which ones gave you the most return on your investment. For every dollar you spent, how much did you raise?

The only reason you should skip this step is if your nonprofit is so new you haven’t done anything yet.

3. Choose the strategies you want to use to raise money. Pick those that give you a good return on your investment of time, money, and energy. Not sure what to pick? Use my 1-10-1000 Rule.

Do 1 special event and do it really well. Make it a Signature Event that everyone in town associates with your organization. Make it a FUN event that people talk about for days afterward. And make sure it makes you plenty of money so it’s worth the effort.

Get 10 grants. Actually, get all you can. I like the number 10 because it fits with my 1-10-1000 Rule. Seriously, when we do grant research for clients, we typically find about 10 really solid grant prospects. Chances are good that with 10 grants, you’ll have deadlines scattered throughout the year, with a few of them having no deadlines and you can work them in when you have time.

Get 1,000 individual donors. Yes, that’s one thousand donors. Don’t freak – you can do this. That many donors will give you a SOLID base of support. Start by figuring out the number of active donors you have right now. Then work on adding 100. When you get those, go find another hundred. By taking it in smaller bites, you’ll be more likely to be successful.

And where do you find new donors? Start with those already invested in your organization – ask your volunteers to give. Ask you those giving in-kind to you to make a financial gift. Ask people who benefit from your programs to give. Then ask them to ask their friends to give. Work your way out to others who are likely to care. Create an Ideal Donor Profile of the person who is MOST likely to give, then brainstorm ways that you can find them easily and in large numbers. This exercise is extremely valuable and will help you focus your donor acquisition efforts in the right place.

4. Put the plan in writing. As you answer these questions, write down your answers. It won’t be a perfect plan, but it will get you started, and hey, that’s half the battle. If It’s not in writing, it isn’t real.
Mark your calendar to revisit this plan in July to see how the 2nd quarter of the year went. That will be a good time to make adjustments before you head into the Fall.

And remember, you can fail to plan or plan to fail – it’s up to you.



More than anything else, people want help getting grants.Most commonly, they want to know where to find grants and how to get them.

It’s really not that hard.

It’s about finding the sweet spot between what you’re trying to do and what a foundation wants to fund.

I remember when I first started writing grants. I loved the idea that I could put together a proposal and get thousands of dollars for my nonprofit. It would be easy and I was a good writer, so success should come easily.

Except that it didn’t. It was a little harder than I thought it would be.

The first proposal I put together was what I now call a “kitchen sink” proposal. I put everything in it. I asked for operating support and money for a vehicle and money to hire a staff person. You won’t be surprised when I tell you it wasn’t funded.

But I didn’t give up.

I spent the next 6 months or so learning everything I could about grants. I attended a couple of workshops, read a book, and quizzed other fundraisers about how they were getting grants. I looked at samples. I wrote and rewrote and rewrote paragraphs describing my programs.

And the next year, when that same grant came around again, I was ready. I wrote a powerful, persuasive, clear proposal, and we got $40,000 to hire a new program person.

Woohoo! I was hooked.

After that, I kept learning and kept writing. My success rate skyrocketed to about 70% (I was getting about 7 out of every 10 grants I applied for).

How did I go from zero to hero?

Here are some things I did that you can do, too.

  1. Keep learning. I never stopped learning about how good grants were put together. I learned about how foundations make their decisions. I listened to what experts said to do or not do. I soaked up everything I could.
  2. Keep trying. I didn’t quit when that first grant was turned down. And I could have. I could have said “that doesn’t work” and walked away from grant writing. But I kept at it until I got good at it.
  3. Define what needs funding. I spent some time looking at my organization in different ways looking for things foundations would fund. I could ask for operating money. I could ask for money for equipment or staff. I created “Fundable Areas” and wrote descriptions of them. It made my life easier when I did research, because I had lots of things to fund instead of just our annual operating budget.
  4. Include direct and indirect costs. I found out that there aren’t a lot of grants out there to cover salaries and overhead expenses. It occurred to me that some of our programs depended on staff to run them or a facility to house them. So I included in program budgets direct expenses like supplies for the program and indirect expenses like utilities for the building where the program was housed. It took some time and effort to figure out how to allocate the entire utility bill across our programs, but when I was finished, it made sense and I could explain it if anyone asked. The bottom line was that I found a way to get some of the staff salaries covered by including them in program budgets.
  5. Get organized. I created a calendar of deadlines so I could keep up with what was coming up. I did a couple of last-minute grants and they were awful. So I decided to get ahead of the curve to prevent that nonsense from happening again. A Deadline Calendar was simple and easy to create, and kept me from being behind the 8-ball.


There are tons more tips I could give you, like follow the foundation’s guidelines to the letter. It’s one way they weed proposals out. Or start early so you have plenty of time for collaborations, both internally and externally (I could tell you a WHOLE story about a Program Director I butted heads with to get program data).

Good grants start with research. Find local access to the Foundation Center database and see what funding opportunities you can find. Then write the best proposal you can, being clear and concise. Submit your grant and see what happens. Celebrate when you get one, and learn from it when you don’t.

It’s the best way to get more grants, no matter how big your nonprofit is.

You step into the room and you start to sweat.

You’re here to meet people maybe gain some new supporters.

Your stomach churns. Your mind races. Your palms are clammy.

You’re going to have to introduce yourself and you’re not sure what to say.

We’ve all been there.

We want to sound sharp and yet sometimes we walk away from events like that knowing we bumbled and stumbled our way through it.

Here’s the good news: No one is born knowing how to be great at networking. It’s a learned skill.

The first step to making lots of new friends for your nonprofit is having something interesting and memorable to say when you introduce yourself.  You need an interesting, confident elevator speech.

The Problem

Most people don’t think too much about what they say about their nonprofit. They might share what they think is “right” or expected. Or they share what they know.

They string too many facts together and unfortunately, it’s boring. And too long.

That’s why sometimes when you’re talking to someone, they seem to zone out or they need to go to the rest room. You’ve just bored them.

Here’s the kind of thing most people say:

“We’re a 501c3 nonprofit. We’ve been around 25 years. We empower disadvantaged people by providing them with a variety of physical and intellectual services to improve their life circumstances… blah blah blah.”

See how boring that is? And how it’s full of jargon? It doesn’t really say anything either. If you heard someone say this, would you have ANY idea what they do? I wouldn’t.

The Elevator Speech

“Elevator speech” is a term for a brief introduction you can give with the sole purpose of engaging someone in conversation.

Think of stepping onto an elevator with someone you’d really like to talk to. They press the button for the 5th floor. You have a matter of seconds to engage them in conversation before they step off the elevator and the opportunity is lost.

I live in a small town where we don’t have any buildings tall enough to have elevators. We call it the Check-Out Line Speech.

The one grocery store is the social hub of the community. You’re guaranteed to see someone you know when you go there, so it’s not a good idea to go in your ragged jeans or sweat pants. Chances are good that when you’re paying for your stuff, you’ll see someone you know. Again – you have a matter of seconds to say something interesting to engage them in conversation.

The whole point of the elevator speech is to get them to ask a question or two. Once you engage someone in conversation, chances are good that they’ll be interested in continuing to learn more later or sign up to volunteer or maybe even make a donation. That means you need to say something interesting and compelling. If it’s boring, they won’t continue the conversation. If it’s attention-grabbing, they’ll stick with you.

Sandy’s 3-Step Elevator Speech Formula

Let’s make this really simple, because the easier it is, the more likely you’ll use it.

Step 1. Who do you help?

Clearly identify, without the jargon, the exact people/animals your nonprofit serves. Is it single Moms who are coming off welfare? Senior dogs? Kids in inner-city neighborhoods?

Your listener needs to be able to picture these folks in their minds when you mention them. So be as clear as possible, using common conversational language.

Step 2. What do you help them do?

What is the transformation you help people with? Are you helping them go from homeless to temporary housing? Do you help them get life-saving medications? Or maybe a life-changing education?

It’s usually a change in situation, status, health, or something similar.

Step 3. What outcome do they get?

Outcomes are important. The outcome is the ultimate change they get.

Think about your programs and the difference in their life from the time they enter your program to the time they complete your program. What’s the change?

Now, put it all together. Use this formula to make it easier.

We help (who)

to (what)

so they can (outcome).


Here are a couple of examples.

For an animal rescue organization serving senior dogs, they might say

We help older dogs to get adopted so they can make the last years of their life the best years of their life.

Here’s one for a food bank:

We help people who are struggling to make ends meet get food so they don’t have to worry about what to feed their kids tonight.

Then if people want more, tell them a story about one life you’ve changed. This story needs to be very heart-warming and you need to be able to tell it quick. Use a “before-and-after” format to talk about what their life was like before they came to you and what’s it like now that they’ve been through your program.

Tips for sounding trustworthy

The more confident and clear you come across, the better. When you sound sure of yourself, it will build trust for your listener.

Watch the quality of your voice. Breathe from the diaphragm and keep yourself centered. Your voice will have a richer quality to it. If your breath comes from your chest or your head, your voice will sound thin and won’t instill confidence in your audience.

Practice your elevator speech so it will roll boldly off your tongue. This is no time to stumble over words.

As you share your elevator speech, watch the facial response of your listener, and pay attention what they say. If you’re not getting the response you’re looking for, tweak your words.

Next steps

I challenge you to put some serious thought into this. Work through the formula and get your elevator speech together. Try it out and see what happens.

I bet you’ll find that you have more people wanting to know more about your nonprofit’s work and wanting to help you.

Hi there. This is your nonprofit donor speaking.

I’m not sure you’ll get this message – we don’t seem to have very good 2-way communication.

But on the outside chance that you might be listening, I wanted to share some things that you do that really bother me.

Some of them are little and some are big. All of them matter to me, and I bet they matter to your other donors, too.

I want you to be successful. I believe in the work you’re doing. My hope is that by sharing my thoughts and feelings, you’ll learn how to better interact with me, which would make it easier and more fun for me to support you.

Hope that makes sense.

So, here we go.


General Communications

  1. Misspelled words. Oh, this is a pet peeve. When you have misspelled words in your emails and newsletters, it makes me wonder if what you’re writing matters to you. I really want you to be professional, because it makes me feel more confident when I give you money. Misspelled words make me question whether you’re the best charity for me to support.
  2. Poor grammar. Ditto from above.
  3. Jargon & Acronyms. There are so many things you write that mean nothing to me. I don’t understand the acronyms. Please excuse my ignorance and keep it simple so I can easily understand.
  4. Insider language. I don’t understand the slang and I feel like an outsider when I see it.
  5. Too much text. Maybe your other donors read everything you write, but I just don’t have time. When I see a page full of text, I cringe inside. Honestly, I don’t have time to read it, even if it’s important.
  6. Confusing program names or logos. I don’t understand sometimes what you’re talking about – are there multiple organizations here? Or are these programs? I can’t tell. It may make sense to you, but I don’t get it.
  7. Unclear or vague communication. Sometimes you send me things that I just can’t figure out. Are you thanking me, giving me an update or asking for money? Please be clear so that I don’t have to wonder what you’re doing.
  8. No emotion. I love reading stories about lives you’re changing. They make me feel proud that I’m helping make something happen. Some of the things you send me have no emotion in them and they’re very dry and hard to read. You may think it’s professional, but I find it boring.
  9. No photos. I love to see your work in action! Please share more good photos!
  10. Bad photos. Some of the photos you share don’t hit the mark. The people are all standing in a line and far away. I can’t see their faces to tell if I know any of them.
  11. Not responding to my call or email promptly. If I have a question and call you or email, please get back to me in a reasonable amount of time. Otherwise, I wonder if you got my message, or if you’re just so busy you can’t get back to me.
  12. Being rude or unfriendly. I get it that you and your co-workers are busy. But it sure hurts my feelings when I call or visit and people are unfriendly, especially if I’ve gone out of my way.
  13. Not giving me a way to come see your work for myself. I’d love to have a tour of your program. Why don’t you offer a tour that I could participate in? It doesn’t have to be private – I’d be happy to be part of a group.
  14. Being too predictable. I won’t even open an email with a subject line of “March Newsletter”. I can guess what’s inside. Give me some real juice – tell me some real stories of things you’re doing that matter. I want to know.
  15. Being mediocre. What are you doing that’s really exciting and making a difference? I don’t want to support organizations that are simply keeping the doors open. I want to be part of something that’s changing our community!


Requests for money

  1. Constantly asking for money without any real reason why. Why is it that almost every time I hear from you, you’re asking for money? And you don’t usually tell me what you’re going to do with the money. I like knowing what my donation will do.
  2. Asking for support for your Annual Fund or Annual Campaign. I don’t really care about those and honestly I don’t even understand what they are. Maybe you could put this into terms I can understand?
  3. Including too many statistics. I’m sure they’re important, but all those numbers are overwhelming.
  4. Including too many detailed updates. I’m not as familiar with your programs as you may think I am, and I don’t really understand all the stuff you share. I usually skip over those parts.
  5. Asking me to do too many things. When you ask me to donate, sign up to volunteer, and buy an event ticket in the same request, I’m not sure which one to do. I usually set that request aside to come back to it later, which of course, I don’t get around to. Please be clear. I’m happy to support you, but sometimes I just don’t know what to do to best help you.
  6. Making me search for the “donate” button on your website. I went online the other day to make a donation, and I looked all over your website, and still couldn’t figure out where to give. I’ve seen other sites where it was easy to donate – I wish your site was like that, too.
  7. Making me go through multiple pages and fill out too many forms to make a simple donation online. For some reason, I get really aggravated when I have to jump through a bunch of hoops to give online. Please make it simple. I don’t like it when it’s complicated!




  1. Not calling me back when I leave a message asking to volunteer or serve on a committee. I’d love to get more involved with your programs. And I don’t understand why no one calls me back. Aren’t you getting my voice mails?
  2. Having committee meetings where nothing is accomplished and it’s a complete waste of my time. Please run a good meeting so we can be productive and get things done. I can’t stand meetings where we talk in a circle and never really decide on anything or get anything done.
  3. Cancelling committee meetings or volunteer activities at the last minute and not telling me. Everyone’s time is important, and everyone deserves the courtesy of not having their time wasted. Just let me know if something is cancelled.
  4. Not being ready for me when I show up for my volunteer shift. When I carve time out of my schedule to volunteer, I expect you to be ready for me when I get there. I see it as a mutual commitment – I commit to come help, and you commit to being ready for me.
  5. Not helping me be ready to volunteer, like telling me what kind of shoes to wear or if I need to bring a lunch. Give me a heads up about what I need to know to have a good volunteer experience.
  6. Not making me feel welcome when I come to volunteer. I’m excited to become part of your team for the time I’m volunteering. Please make me feel valued and part of the time. I’m likely to come back again if I’m feeling good about it.
  7. Not showing me where the restroom is or giving me a break so I can use it. Basic things are important. Don’t expect me to work like a slave while I’m there. Just be hospitable and remember that I may not be used to this kind of work or working for extended periods of time. I may need more breaks than you usually take.
  8. Not relieving me at the end of my volunteer shift so that I can go home. Good Lord, this is important! Especially if you’ve told me how long my shift will be, and I can’t leave without someone else taking my spot. Don’t leave me hanging!



  1. Sending me an invitation to an event that happens this week. Come on! Give me a little more notice! I can’t just drop everything to attend your event.
  2. Making it hard to register. Another pet peeve! Don’t make me have to work hard to give you money to buy a ticket. Make the registration process easily and painless.
  3. Not giving me adequate information once I have registered, like where the event is being held, what time it starts, what to wear, or where to park. I’ll need details if you want me to actually show up to the event.
  4. Not giving me a way to tell you about my strict dietary needs. No explanation needed here.
  5. Not welcoming me or thanking me at the event. I attended an event recently where the volunteers at the registration table seemed really unhappy. No one welcomed me or thanked me for coming. I felt like I was somehow inconveniencing them.
  6. Letting the event drag on. Please put on a good event, with a program that moves along at a reasonable page. I hate it when programs drag and speakers are boring. I don’t usually go back after I have an experience like that. Who would?
  7. Making me wait in a LONG line to check out after the silent auction is over. Surely there’s technology you can use that will speed this process up. I once waited for almost 2 hours to check out after a silent auction closed. I was madder than a wet hen!
  8. Not telling me how much the event raised, or telling me months afterward. After the event, I’ll be curious to know how you did. Please tell me. Oh, and don’t make me wait months to find out. By then I will have forgotten.


After I’ve given

  1. Not thanking me. This is just rude. If I give you money, the least you can do is say “Thank you.”
  2. Thanking me weeks afterward. Why should it take weeks to send me a thank you letter? By then I’ve already either forgotten or given up on hearing from you, and either way, I’ve probably already decided not to give again.
  3. Sending the thank-you letter addressed to my husband when I was the one who made the decision to give and wrote the check. Got it?
  4. Sending me the same dry, boring letter you sent me last year. Surely there’s someone there who can write a nice, warm letter.
  5. Sending me a LONG thank-you letter, stuffed full of 25-cent words, with nothing that’s interesting to me. I don’t have time to read all that, and I know before I start that there’s nothing interesting in it.
  6. Including a reply envelope in the letter. Really? You can’t just thank me and leave it at that? Frankly, I’m insulted when you put an envelope in with the letter. It feels like all you want is my money.
  7. Not giving me any reason to think my gift made a difference or how it’s being used. I really want to make a difference. I want to be part of something good in this world. It would mean a lot to me if you could tell me that my money is changing someone’s life.
  8. Not providing me with a way to contact you or give you feedback. Maybe you could put the name and phone number or email of a specific person in the thank you letter. Sometimes I have a quick question and I’d love to know who to call.